One archaeologist’s coolest thing I ever found

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Each month Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources—Historic Preservation Division distributes a free digital newsletter, Preservation Posts. Among other stories, the November 2010 issue includes a staff profile of Bryan Tucker. Mr. Tucker is Archaeology Section Chief and Deputy State Archaeologist—Terrestrial.

One of the questions Mr. Tucker answers is: “What is the coolest thing you have ever found?” His response:

Archaeologists are frequently asked what the coolest artifact they have ever found is. The non-archaeologist often envisions arrowheads or pottery sherds but the truth is that those are pretty common finds for an archaeologist. The artifacts that provide the most information and are the coolest to us often don’t look like much, just a dark or light stain in the ground. The coolest thing I ever found was like that. I was working in Portugal on a site that dated to the Upper Paleolithic period, about 22,000 years ago, when I found the remains of a campfire. They normally don’t preserve in the sandy soils and it just looked like a very faint patch of darker sand, but the carbon in the sand allowed us to date that portion of the site. It was one of the oldest and most informative things I have found.

Professional archaeologists would agree with him, that the coolest or best or most memorable thing they’ve found is often not an object, but a feature, or archaeological evidence of human activities that are not artifacts.

Professional archaeologists would also agree that the importance of their fieldwork, including the artifacts and features they’ve found, lies in the information they contain.

Is this at odds with your understanding of archaeology?

The archives of Preservation Posts are online here, along with instructions on how to subscribe.